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Jakarta Post

Overcoming eroding knowledge of Bali'€™s food plants

  • Wawan Sujarwo

    The Jakarta Post

Denpasar   /   Sat, January 31, 2015   /  10:24 am

The recent arrival of ecotourism to some aga (ancient) Bali villages presents a unique array of prospects and challenges for locals and for their relationship with nature.

As many visitors are foreign and wealthy, at least by local standards, this region has been bombarded by the cultural and material influences and excesses of the developed world. In Bali'€™s aga villages, traditional cultural practices and values have been supplanted.

The local population is now roughly divided between the younger generation, who cater to tourism, and the older generation, whose values and knowledge seem out of step with life in the region.

Traditional ethno-botanical knowledge (TEK) has little survival value in the increasingly commercialized and market-based economy of such areas.

Our analyses suggest a serious impact of modernization on Balinese TEK. Although our analyses concentrated only on food plants, our results may be indicative of a more general loss of ethno-botanical knowledge.

This cultural erosion might be mitigated with appropriate cultural programs. Continued use and promotion of the Balinese life philosophy, the Tri Hita Karana, could lead locals to effectively conserve traditional knowledge and utilize the abundant natural resources of Bali.

Continued access to youth associations, adat (customary) law, and good communication between the older and younger generations will very likely encourage locals to conserve traditional knowledge of plant uses.

The Tri Hita Karana concept encapsulates this spiritual basis of Balinese knowledge of dealing with the environment '€” to be respectful toward nature and use its resources sustainably.

Observations and interviews with a wide variety of community members in all 13 of Bali'€™s aga villages indicate that mostly people still apply the principle in their daily doings, as manifested in the system of mutual help known as saling metulung or gotong royong.

Teaching the younger generation the cultural traditions must be given higher priority. Outside school, there are various private initiatives creating opportunities to learn dances and other material and performance arts.

Biology classes should teach students about the conservation of biodiversity and the application of plants for food, or other purposes.

As some respondents correctly noted, here is yet another paradox in the conservation of the Balinese culture: certainly the school system provides a cogent means to spread Balinese knowledge, beliefs and practices, but it is modeled on the Western system, supplementing the contemporary scientific approach with an anthropocentric vision.

Hence it contradicts the Balinese vision in which humans are an integrated part of the whole cosmos.

The Tri Hita Karana principle in current and future community resource-management is precious because it is both familiar and logical to the Balinese people. Community resource-management programs and initiatives should concentrate on reinforcing local institutions, including the desa/banjar adat (village), subak (irrigation system), pura (Balinese Hindu temple) and seka (youth associations), and raising understanding and knowledge of the making of artefacts.

Specifically, they should stress the local knowledge and philosophy underlying Balinese practices and material and performance arts. It is believed that realizing such community resource-management will revive the gaya or energetic way of life, making optimal use of local potential and resources.

As things stand nowadays, tradition seems to receive only tokenistic recognition from commercial interests.

For example, a hotel advertisement reads, '€œKeeping with these ancient customs of balancing and thanking our relationship with nature, the creator and with each other, we hope your stay will indeed be very special.'€

Enough said.


The writer is a researcher at the Bali Botanical Gardens, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).